Chip Innovations Driving 5G Momentum for Smartphones

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New 5G-enabled chips from MediaTek and Qualcomm, such as the Dimensity 820 and Snapdragon 768G are driving new age innovations for the smartphone segment

Even though there are some who think that the momentum around 5G has slowed a bit because of the impact of COVID-19, this is not the case – especially when we look at major new chip advances from companies such as MediaTek and Qualcomm. On the contrary, developments seem to be moving forward at a very rapid pace and promise great innovations in the 5G era.

Mediatek has just unveiled its Dimensity 820, which is a SOC (System on Chip) that includes the company’s own sub-6 GHz 5G modem, as well as an Arm based octa core CPU featuring four Cortex-A76 “big” cores, an Arm Mali G57-based GPU, and neural network processors. 

The 820 comes shortly after the debut of the Dimensity 1000 family, Mediatek’s first 5G-native SOC that’s expected to power soon-to-be-released phones from OPPO, Vivo, OnePlus etc. 

What’s interesting about the Dimensity 820 is that it offers support for dual 5G SIMs, which could be of interest in many Asian countries and not only just in India where dual SIM usage is quite popular.

Qualcomm has also quite recently unveiled the Snapdragon 768G SOC—an enhancement over its previous Snapdragon 765—which includes a faster performing ARM Mali-based GPU and Cortex A76-based CPU that’s optimized specifically for mobile gaming (hence the G at the end of its name). 

The Snapdragon 768G also supports 5G via the integrated X52 5G modem, which unlike the Mediatek offering, works with both sub-6 GHz and mmWave versions of 5G technology.

As an organization leading innovation, Qualcomm’s continued work and momentum on its combined RF (Radio Frequency) front end and antenna modules for 5G phones is quite remarkable. These components are what allow modems to connect to the new frequency bands that have been enabled in the 5G NR (New Radio) specification and are at the technical core of new 5G networks. 

All these new developments are opening new doors of affordability in front of the 5G driven networks. Both these companies are now driving lower-cost options for 5G modems and other critical components. This, in turn, allows smartphone vendors to create lower-cost, 5G-enabled smartphones—an absolutely essential step for 5G advancements, particularly because of the economic uncertainties that the pandemic has caused.

Affordable 5G

As of the beginning of last year when 5G first went commercial, we only had flagship 5G smartphones. These devices arrived with a price tag above $700 in most cases. However, as manufacturers continue to develop 5G, the average price of 5G smartphones in China is now about $464. Since the release of the MediaTek Dimensity 5G chips, there has been a preponderance of mid-range 5G smartphones. We currently have 5G phones that sell for about $300. 

As the price of 5G chips reduces, so is the overall price of 5G smartphones. According to IDC’s recent report, the global smartphone market will grow by 9.5% year-on-year in 2020. The report shows that the market will ship about 1.2 billion units this year. 

Furthermore, Statista’s data shows that there has been a significant decline in the average price of 5G mobile phones in China. As of Q3 2019, the average price of 5G mobile phones in China was $711. However, in less than a year, the average price of 5G phones in China is now $464. This is basically due to the preponderance of mid-range 5G chips and smartphones.

One of the biggest challenges facing the 5G market to date has been that most of the 5G-capable smartphones on the market have been priced at $1,000 or higher, which inherently limits their potential audience. That, in turn, provides less incentive for telco carriers to aggressively expand their 5G network coverage—though many of them, notably T-Mobile here in the US—have still been doing a great deal of work to kickstart that process.

Thankfully, that vicious cycle of limited device sales delaying the expansion plans of carriers can quickly be turned on its head and become a virtuous cycle where large volumes of lower cost 5G smartphones trigger even more network build out.

The important thing to remember about 5G for carriers isn’t necessarily that they want to be able to charge significantly more for 5G services—and in fact, most haven’t charged anything at all for it to date. 

Thanks to the efficiencies enabled by 5G, the new network standard allows them to achieve the same amount of throughput levels they can with 4G LTE at a lower cost. In other words, with 5G, the cost of transmitting each bit over the wireless network goes down—hence the carriers’ strong motivation to see wider adoption of the technology.

Thanks to these new announcements from MediaTek and Qualcomm, we can expect to see an even broader array of lower-price options in the market soon. Those should prove to be a powerful incentive for many to make the jump to 5G—even if the economic environment is still strained this is especially important for a pandemic-situation like today.

As a result, 5G is likely to quickly move from being a nice-to-have technology to something that many are going to feel they need to have. With the lower-cost components becoming available now to make cheaper 5G smartphones a reality in the near future, that’s a momentum-driving step that many are going to be willing to take.

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